UnitedHealth VP: ‘Sequencing the human lifestyle’ will drive real behavior change
Healthcare innovation is Brandon Rowberry‘s business.
Many in the health industry likely won’t think “insurance” when they hear “innovation,” but Rowberry — vice president of innovation development at Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) — is working to change that perception.
And Rowberry and UnitedHealth are already achieving results. UnitedHealth has been tapped by Forbes as the most innovative company in managed care and health insurance for the last two years.
Recently, UnitedHealth has formed a subgroup that will start providing low-cost, high-quality hearing aids to average Americans, rolled out a health transparency tool for its mobile app, invested in a New York health IT accelerator and joined other insurers in combining $1 trillion in claims data to create an institute that will look for causes behind high health costs.
Rowberry talked with MedCity News about the meaning of “sequencing the human lifestyle” and the promise it holds for healthcare, plus some of his favorite healthcare innovation thought leaders.
In your opinion, where are we not spending enough money and attention in healthcare?
Some of the big innovations in healthcare over the next decade will come from something a friend of mine calls “sequencing the human lifestyle.” This is the term BodyMedia founder and now-Googler Astro Teller used at a conference when he compared the amount of time, attention and resources that goes into truly understanding and doing something about human behavior versus all that goes into the much more well-known area of sequencing of the human genome. To a large degree, our own behavior drives much of our health outcomes, yet we don’t spend nearly enough understanding and developing solutions in that space. However, we’re seeing investment and thinking in this space pick up dramatically.
Having unobtrusive real-time data on actual behavior will open up a new realm of care possibilities and consumer applications. We’ll see care providers being able to know specific aspects of your actual behavior and tailor care accordingly; consumers changing behavior, not on hunches, but based on easy-to-understand data about themselves; and wellness firms mass customizing services to work for your specific lifestyle. The leaders in the space for some time have been the sports or weight-loss related companies like Nike, BodyMedia, Garmin, Polar and Fitbit. The consensus forecast for the “wearable sensor” market tops 50 percent annually for the foreseeable future, so it’s no wonder new entrants are emerging.
Many healthcare innovators have read Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and the “Innovator’s Prescription.” What other thought leaders do you follow to help anticipate emerging trends in the health space?
I recently had a conversation with Vijay Govindarajan, a well-known author on corporate strategy and innovation, at a meeting we attended together. He and Chris Trimble recently published a book called “Reverse Innovation.” The main thesis is that, to be competitive globally, the old model of developing a new innovation in the U.S . and then “scaling it down” and exporting the lesser version to emerging economies doesn’t work anymore. Essentially, the innovation process is “reversed” by developing and launching the new solution in an emerging market, and then bringing that solution to the U.S. He and I talked about significantly different models for care that are already in emerging economies that could be imported to better serve the U.S. and Europe.
One example is the GE ultra-portable electrocardiograph machine originally built for doctors in India and China, and now selling in the U.S. for one-fifth the price of similar products. Another is Aravind Eye Care, which developed and launched a profitable business model that does cataract surgery for $30, compared with $1,000 per surgery.
There’s a lot of talk in the healthcare industry about cross-industry collaboration. Can you give a specific example of how that would actually help improve healthcare?
Healthcare in 2012 seems to be “everyone’s adjacency” from a growth perspective. Meaning, that in growth planning across the globe, leadership teams have a bright yellow circle around the healthcare space as the one they are itching to get into. From automotive to consumer packaged goods to new technology companies, everyone is talking about it and moving in that direction. With the onslaught of unparalleled competition in the health space from so many nontraditional competitors, it only makes sense that some of the hottest growth will come from innovative collaborations with cross-industry partners. They bring new capabilities and new perspectives that single-industry companies can’t match.
For example, UnitedHealth Group is tackling the diabetes epidemic and has started the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance. It’s a collaboration with UHG, the YMCA and retailers to profitably help stop type 2 diabetes. It has grown to have a significant presence and shows impressive results in the fight against diabetes.
Collaborations like these have proven to be good for business, good for the health system, and very good for consumers who get the health benefit.